PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 25.1 (2003) 7-20
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Memories of the Future
Technology and the Body in dumb type's memorandum
Woodrow Hood and Cynthia Gendrich
High-speed visuals stir up perceptions, electronic noise jostles the viscera, silhouetted figures race through the brain.
—review of memorandum in Dance Art (Spring 2001)
Conceptual and collage art has rarely had such a powerful performance proponent as Kyoto's dumb type. Their recent US tour of memorandum demonstrates that, after seventeen years together, their creativity is at its zenith. Invoking the theme of memory, dumb type takes various musings and meditations on the topic to some startling, sensual, and deliciously bizarre places. memorandum explores how personal choices and perspectives have an immense impact on whether memory serves us with its transformative power, or whether it traps us in a macabre landscape.
A Brief History of dumb type
Only in the last few years has dumb type emerged as one of Japan's best exports, performing at theatre festivals in Europe and Asia, and—more recently—coming to the United States for brief tours. Known for their high energy, high-tech productions, the name of the Kyoto collective comes from the group's desire to transcend the cultural borders of language and create image-and-sound-driven performance. The scant use of spoken language leads to a nearly "dumb" performance. 1
Founded in 1984, dumb type has always sought to interweave many artistic practices into one. Created by frustrated art students who were not allowed to work outside their disciplines, the original members of the collective came from diverse backgrounds: sound, dance, theatre, communications, and architecture. As the group structured itself, Teiji Furuhashi emerged as the artistic director. Under Furuhashi's stewardship, dumb type grew from performances and gallery installations of the 1980s to their now-trademark multi-media, multi-layered performance pieces. With a central group tenet of seeking universality in their artistic voice, dumb type early on sought performance venues outside of their homeland. Choreographer/dancer Takai Kawagushi notes that their work is "global, it's not limited to something that's Japanese." 2 [End Page 7]
Finding financial support and artistic freedom on the European festival circuit, dumb type has performed and created their works pH, S/N, and OR 3 all over Europe, doing most of their development in France. Many of these pieces focused on issues like AIDS, sexuality, and technology's cultural dominance—issues that were close to Furuhashi, who at the age of thirty-five died from AIDS complications. Despite a difficult transitional period, dumb type has continued after his death, expanding further into world theatre festivals and US venues.
dumb type functions as a conceptual collective. Typically the group begins with a basic concept that is derived through weeks of brainstorming and improvisation. The collective took about half a year (while OR was touring) to come up with the central idea of "memory" for the piece that would follow. The idea wasn't solidified so the group continued brainstorming until they realized that the act of brainstorming itself (contemplating, searching, recalling) were all functions of memory and settled on the idea.
Collaboratively created by a diverse assemblage of artists, each piece can begin with different source material. A piece might originate out of a single movement or action, or emerge from a bit of sound or video, or be stimulated by a prop or object. Whatever source materials are decided upon are then presented to the collective, and over a long rehearsal period each artist adds his or her own voice or talent to the final product. Takai Kawagushi remarks, "It's like a melting pot; anybody can put anything in the pot and cook. And then gradually when the steam comes up together, then each person takes the response in each field." Through long rehearsals that last many hours each day over several months, the group tweaks and rewrites the performance. They may premier an abridged...